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Executive Director Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART)
The secondhand clothing are not unwanted goods 'dumped' in Africa
The Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) works towards strengthening the economic opportunities by promoting the interdependence of the for-profit textile recycling industry segments. In conversation with Fibre2Fashion, Jackie King, executive director of SMART, talks about the advantages of the secondhand clothing industry and the impracticalities of the ban proposed by the East African Community on recycled textiles.
What are the main advantages of recycling textiles and clothing items?
There are environmental, social and economic advantages to reusing and recycling textiles and clothing items. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, two million tons of textiles are currently recycled annually, which has a major impact on reducing greenhouse gases. In fact, recycling those two million tons is the equivalent of removing one million cars from America's highways-far more than the impact of recycling yard trimmings, glass and plastic and nearly equals the impact of aluminium recycling.
Further, the recycled textiles industry:
Reduces the need for landfill space by diverting textiles from the waste stream
Decreases the use of natural resources such as water used in growing crops and petroleum used in creating new clothing and textiles
Cuts down on the need for dyes and fixing agents used in manufacturing new textiles
Lessens pollution generated in the manufacturing process
The reuse and recycling of textiles involves mostly human labour and are far less energy/water/resource-intensive or polluting than other recycling industries.
In terms of social and economic benefits, respected non-governmental organisations like Oxfam applaud the secondhand clothing industry because its clothing sales create jobs and affordable apparel in numerous lesser developed countries. Many people in these countries simply cannot afford locally made new clothing, and in fact earn their livelihood by selling used clothing.
How does recycling clothes help the economy as well as the environment?
The secondary materials and recycled textiles market is an estimated $1 billion industry with tremendous economic impact around the globe. International trade is a critical component of the textile industry's success. In 2014, the US directly exported nearly $41 million worth of secondhand clothing. However, US sourced used clothing is also shipped into Canada, India, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Honduras and Mexico where it is processed and then re-exported to other countries. These goods are equal to another $106 million worth of secondhand clothing. Together, this equals $147 million, or about 21 per cent of the US industry's total exports each year.
In addition to this $147 million, untold millions more benefit the coffers of our partner charities like Goodwill Industries, St. Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army. In all, more than 60 per cent of recovered textile waste, or 1.4 billion pounds of used clothing, is sent abroad to more than 100 countries - creating hundreds of thousands of jobs worldwide and 20,000 people directly employed by textile recyclers in the US alone.
To add to this direct impact, SMART member companies purchase excess textile donations from charities and commercial sources (i.e. nonprofits, thrift stores, hospitals, hotels and industrial laundries etc.). The purchase of unusable donations provides additional funds to charitable organisations and serves as a critical source of revenue to support their ongoing, community-based programs.
What measures are adopted by SMART to create awareness regarding the necessity for recycling clothing items?
Education is a critical component of SMART's mission. The average American puts 81 pounds of clothing, footwear or textiles into local landfills or waste-to-energy facilities every year. In the US, more than 13 million tons of solid municipal waste is generated annually that is exclusively clothing and other household textiles; of this amount, only 15.3 per cent is recycled even though 95 per cent of all clothing and textile products can be reused or recycled into new products.
Through a program focussed on elementary education, SMART has reached more than 1 million students by providing grade-appropriate resources for educators on the benefits of recycling used clothing and household textiles. These materials continue to be offered for free on the SMART website for schools and educators to use. SMART also supports state and local governments around the US in their recycling and education efforts, and has partnered with the states of Massachusetts, Washington, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut among others on a variety of initiatives. Finally, SMART provides free, online resources on our website that highlighting the facts about the textile reuse and recycling industry. SMART has also developed multiple videos on the industry which can be found on our website.
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